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Plant diversity and root traits benefit physical properties key to soil function in grasslands

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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>09/2016
<mark>Journal</mark>Ecology Letters
Issue number9
Volume19
Number of pages10
Pages (from-to)1140-1149
Publication statusPublished
Early online date26/07/16
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Plant diversity loss impairs ecosystem functioning, including important effects on soil. Most studies that have explored plant diversity effects belowground, however, have largely focused on biological processes. As such, our understanding of how plant diversity impacts the soil physical environment remains limited, despite the fundamental role soil physical structure plays in ensuring soil function and ecosystem service provision. Here, in both a glasshouse and a long-term field study, we show that high plant diversity in grassland systems increases soil aggregate stability, a vital structural property of soil, and that root traits play a major role in determining diversity effects. We also reveal that the presence of particular plant species within mixed communities affects an even wider range of soil physical processes, including hydrology and soil strength regimes. Our results indicate that alongside well-documented effects on ecosystem functioning, plant diversity and root traits also benefit essential soil physical properties.